Education Key to Weather Preparedness

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Pine Belt emergency managers in five counties are working together to educate residents on protecting themselves during severe weather, and a special presentation is scheduled 6:30-8 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Forrest County Community Shelter to provide safety information. Latrice Maxie, Observing Program Leader with the National Weather Service’s Jackson office, led the recent planning event for the Oct. 23 event. She agreed that educating people about dealing with the natural disasters is important.

“The education part is definitely the critical part because a lot of times people are injured or killed because they don’t know what to do,” she said. “So, the idea is for us to provide as much information as possible to help them. It is so difficult to be pro-active during a natural disaster. We want to try to catch as much of the public as possible.” Emergency managers from Forrest, Lamar, Perry, Covington and Jones counties attended the planning meeting and discussed a draft agenda for the presentation. Maxie said anytime is the right time to be prepared.

“Weather is always happening,” she said. “We don’t usually have as many tornadoes during the summer as we do during the spring and the fall. Yet, we have had some August tornadoes that have caused some minor damage because they still cause damage nonetheless.” Two of the most recent tornadoes in Pine Belt occurred in the winter. An EF-3 tornado killed three people in Marion County on Dec. 23, 2014, while an EF-3 twister cut a path from Lamar County through Hattiesburg and Petal on Jan. 21, 2017. Lamar County Emergency Manager James Smith said the October presentation will come at a good time to remember. “That October timeframe is not very far off from a pretty active severe weather season for us,” he said. “We have basically two – one in the fall and early winter and another one in the spring. So that would be a good reminder to get people thinking along those lines.” Maxie stressed that residents shouldn’t depend on one weather source when the skies look dark. “A good idea is to have different resources for your weather information,” she said, “and we try to encourage everyone to find shelter or a place of safety when they know the weather is going to be bad if you have enough warning. But if you’ve been warned that it’s 30 minutes away, you have time to deal with it.” Smith said the unpredictable nature of weather events makes listening to different sources important. “I know I watch Marion County’s weather because we get a lot of their weather, and Forrest County watches us close because they get a lot of our weather,” he said. “Next time, (the storm) may come over Lamar in the same place, or it may come over Sumrall. You just never know.”

Forrest County – along with other nearby counties – have an advantage with their community shelters, Maxie said. “One thing is Forrest County opens the community shelter when there’s a sign of bad weather,” she said. “This (Oct. 21 event) is going to give people the opportunity to see what the shelter is like when the weather isn’t dangerous so they can understand what they need to do. People need to know that if there is a tornado watch issued, you can come here and have a safe place.” Smith said he applauds the area emergency directors and the National Weather Service for organizing the event. “I think this will be a good thing for the people, even people that are used to the area,” he said. “We have a lot of transient population in the area, especially with the universities. So, any kind of outreach program we can do is like a wakeup call.”       

The Forrest County Community Shelter is at 946 Sullivan Drive. Refreshments will be served at the event.